Indonesia reviewing haze-linked collaborations with Singapore, says minister: Report

An aerial view of a forest fire burning near the village of Bokor, Indonesia. PHOTO: REUTERS

JAKARTA - Indonesia is reviewing existing and planned bilateral collaborations with Singapore on environment and forestry issues, Indonesian Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar has been quoted as saying by a report.

The minister herself will be leading the assessment, reported independent environmental news portal on Saturday (May 14). The website, set up last December, was founded by former director of Indonesia-based activist group Greenomics, Elfian Effendi, and claims to "play a role in the reporting of forestry, environmental and climate change issues".

According to the report, some existing bilateral collaborations would be terminated, and proposed ones, including on haze and forest fire-related issues, would be subjected to a "substantial review process".

"This is a substantial step that needs to be taken. We have a set of clear and measured criteria in this review process," Ms Siti was quoted as saying.

"We are looking at these bilateral collaborations in terms of substance. If it comes down to breaking off any existing bilateral collaborations, this would be the logical consequence of a substance-based review process," she added.

As of now, all procedures with respect to planned bilateral collaborations have been put on hold, the report said. Ms Siti had also drafted a letter to be sent to a number of local governments to request that they refrain from any direct bilateral cooperation with Singapore, particularly on haze and forest fire-related issues.

She said the review is her ministry's initiative and "not a joint process with Singapore".

"We are going to only inform Singapore, at a later stage, of the existing bilateral collaborations that are to be terminated as well as those planned collaborations which will not go ahead. Basically, we feel only obliged to notify them (Singapore's Ministry of Environment and Water Resources) of our decisions," she said.

Mr Rasio Ridho Sani, the director-general of law enforcement for the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, confirmed that a review of Indonesia's cooperation with Singapore was in progress when contacted by The Straits Times.

"Yes, we are reviewing our bilateral cooperation with Singapore related to many issues, not only forests and forest fires but also on other environmental aspects. The review is being conducted by the ministry's senior officials who are in charge of their respective areas of bilateral cooperation," he said.

The comments by Ms Siti came after Singapore's National Environment Agency (NEA) last Wednesday (May 11) said it had obtained a court warrant against the director of an Indonesian company who failed to turn up for an interview with the authorities in Singapore despite being served a legal notice to do so when he was in the country.

The director, whose name and company were not disclosed, had been served a notice to provide information on his company's move to mitigate fires on its land and prevent a repeat of last year's choking haze.

In response, Indonesia's Foreign Ministry spokesman Arrmanatha Nasir told reporters in Jakarta on Thursday (May 12) the country has lodged a "strong protest" with Singapore through its ambassador "in reference to some cases where Indonesian businessmen were interrogated".

But Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) spokesman said the Indonesia Embassy had not made any representations to Singapore, adding that Mr Arrmanatha's remarks are "puzzling".

Errant pulp and paper companies have been blamed for causing forest and peatland fires in Indonesia that led to thick, choking haze throughout the region in September and October last year.

NEA has since then issued notices to six Indonesia-based companies, asking them to outline the steps they are taking to put out and prevent fires on their land. Only two have responded.

The move, NEA said, was in accordance with Singapore's Transboundary Haze Pollution Act - passed in Parliament in 2014 - which empowers the authorities to punish those causing or condoning fires that result in unhealthy levels of haze in Singapore.

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